Meal Plan Working Group holds forum

Students voice concerns about meal swipe minimums, BC transition, and New Vassar

The Meal Plan Working Group held a forum to discuss recently-announced changes to the meal plan March 2. The changes include raising the meal plan minimums for incoming classes and making dining dollars optional.

About 40 students and administrators attended the forum.

Mark Hayes, director of campus dining, said at the forum that the updates address the overall dissatisfaction with the quality and variety of food options across campus and MIT Dining’s high operational costs. 

MIT Dining operates at a cost of $11 million, but only receives $9.4 million in revenue each year, Hayes said. The New Vassar (NV) dining hall will increase the dining deficit from $1.6 million to $2.2 million due to its operating costs.

Hayes said the meal plan changes will allow MIT Dining to operate at or near cost by the year 2024. 

When a student raised the concern that increasing meal swipe minimums decreases student flexibility, Hayes said that MIT inherently has flexible dining options by making dining dollars optional and allowing students to choose their dining plan. Hayes noted that other peer institutions require all students to be on the same meal plan. 

According to Harvard’s Dining Services website, “Harvard College requires all undergraduates living on campus to have an unlimited meal plan.” 

Addressing the financial deficit, Graduate Student Council Vice President Alex Joerger G said that “the only way to make this work is to increase the number of [meal] swipes sold.” Joerger said that either students with a meal plan will have to pay more or students not on a meal plan will be forced to purchase one. 

When asked if the working group had considered requiring all students to be on the meal plan, Peter Cummings, executive director for administration at the Division of Student Life (DSL), said that “there’s a healthy respect for cook-for-yourself communities” and that with “more people on the plan, it is less expensive for everyone… but that isn’t MIT.”

Hayes said that minimizing the deficit will allow MIT Dining to “strategically update equipment.” 

According to the working group plan, no current MIT undergraduates will be affected by the changes in meal plan minimums. 

Burton Conner residents raised the concern that, due to the temporary closing of BC, residents may be forced onto a meal plan when they do not want one. The concerns arose amid speculation that there will be insufficient room in non-dining hall dorms and surplus room in NV for displaced BC residents. 

Senior Associate Dean for Residential Education Judy Robinson responded that the DSL “won’t know how many beds will be available until there is movement,” which will be determined by the housing switch lottery.

A student asked if BC residents who move to NV would get be exempted from the meal plan. Cummings responded that the New Vassar community wouldn’t “get off to a good start” if some students were exempt. In response to a student’s concern about cost, Cummings said that he could take the idea of a temporary meal plan subsidy to other administrators. 

McCormick Head of House Raul Radovitzky said that dining halls can act as a “glue” for the community, recalling a time when McCormick did not have a dining plan to be “pretty sad.”

The conversation also addressed NV and its role in the meal plan updates. Specifically, students wondered why the new dorm was decided to be a dining dorm.

NV Head of House Steve Hall ScD ’85 said that due to the building size requirements, the new 450-bed dorm could not fit multiple kitchens to support a cook-for-yourself community.

Naomi Carton, NV associate head of house, wrote in an email to The Tech that the energy required for multiple cook-for-yourself kitchens throughout the building presents “significant challenges to fulfilling MIT’s sustainability goals.”

Hayes also said that opening NV for lunch will reduce overcrowding in Maseeh. 

Other students expressed dissatisfaction with the food quality at dining halls. 

“A bad experience day after day shouldn’t happen,” Hall said. Both Hall and Hayes recommended that students email to report poor food quality. 

Hayes added that students will be sent a comprehensive dining survey next week so that “we will know by house… where we need to focus.”

Rujul Gandhi contributed reporting.